The church as an institution has operated on levels of hierarchy for many years. Due to this system, many are encumbered by the weight of feeling "less than perfect" and therefore give up volunteering or helping in ministry settings. We get into a mindset that ministry is only done within church walls, a particular building, or only for pastors or missionaries-"over there." Ministry is only for "ordained clergy," or so popular culture emphasizes. When we see a priest with his Catholic garb, we might say "#@#*!" and then say, "oh sorry, father," when in reality, the priest is just as human as the next person and has probably seen, heard, or done worse himself.
The reality of the word "ministry" covers multiple aspects of serving within a community alongside and among believers. A pastor has the role of equipping and leading, while at the same time empowers others. In this article, I reflect on the Biblical concepts of what it means to live out a "ministering community" and the "equipping role" that pastors and leaders have in bringing it about.
The purpose of the church in Acts is for them to be a "light in the darkness" (Matthew 5:14-16) and a community united in love. From the start, there was a "togetherness" that set them apart from the world's ways, because they were following Christ's commands as He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). The early believers worshiped together (Acts 2:46) and were "united in heart and mind" (Acts 4:32). Part of their work involved opposition and even grumbling, but they were encouraged to each play a specific part as the body of Christ (Acts 6:2-4). We do not hear much about Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (Acts 6:5), but we do know that because of their teamwork, significant roles, and unique gifting, including Stephen and Philip, that "God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted too" (Acts 6:7).
While many of us in the church community today want to be a Peter or Paul or John or James, we forget it is just as meaningful to be a Barnabas, Nicanor, Timothy, Lydda, or Aquila and Priscilla, etc. Paul rightly called on the Corinthians' favoritism and said "you are still controlled by your sinful nature" and "you are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other" (1 Corinthians 3:3). He went on to say we have a role in God's kingdom purposes: "For we are both God's workers. And you are God's field. You are God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:9).
Once this mindset is tackled, the church as a body can be more effective in doing what God has called us to do. Especially with Jesus' command to be the light and to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength" and "to love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27-29). The issue we face as a community of believers is deciding who is "worthy" enough to be a neighbor. So who is my neighbor? Businessman Bob or pious, attend every church service Jenny? Is it poor Ralph on the street? Single mom Maria with her obnoxious kids next door? The Vietnamese family who always talks loud?
Jesus challenges our erroneous thoughts and ethnocentrism by sharing the story of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were mixed blood. They were "less than human," according to the pietism of the true Pharisees. None of these holy Pharisees, however, stopped to help a person. They just kept on keeping on. It was the Samaritan who stopped to help and be a neighbor. At the end of his story, Jesus asks: "now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?" The man replied, "The one who showed him mercy" (Luke 10:30-37).
As a body, team, and follower of Jesus, we are called to show mercy in our communities (I see Romans 12:9-21 and Ephesians 4:1-16 as a good litmus test for this). This could literally mean the person who lives across the street or next door to the grocery store clerk. I admit, I am guilty of ignoring someone in need and I have passed by someone when clearly I had the means to offer assistance. I must strive not to "pretend to love others," (Romans 12:9) but to "really love them."
Is a pastor holier than other people? Does a pastor sit on a level higher than "all the rest," or the "laity," as so commonly distinguished in our culture? I would disagree. I believe pastors have a unique role in guiding people similar to Paul and Timothy, but they are not the "be all and end all," even if they were the ones who "founded" a church group in some town or city. Pastors are to find, lead, build-up, and encourage the gifts of others and empower them to serve with their talents. The term laity conjures up the idea of "sub-par," or "not as good."
Kent Humphreys, president of Lifestyle Impact Ministries, is a successful businessman. He had a call to serve God "full time." His insight is inspirational:
"I thought that in order to serve God in a full-time capacity, you had to be a missionary, a pastor, or a paid church worker. Therefore I began to prepare to go to college and seminary. I decided that I would become a pastor. After making poor grades in Greek and Hebrew studies in the 'pre-ministry' program in college, I got some valuable and godly counsel. I learned that I could serve Christ full-time in the area in which I was gifted! I switched my major to business and began to excel in my classes. My life was changed forever." (1)
Romans 12:6-8 gives examples of gifts of serving, encouraging, teaching, giving, leading, and showing kindness. Upon further reflection, Galatians 5:22-26 relates in that the power of the Holy Spirit allows us to use these gifts and live within our unique fruit-bearing talents. 1 Corinthians 12 lists abilities God gives those who believe in Christ and makes the analogy that we are a body. Some do the equipping and some do the uplifting. "The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you." The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you" (1 Corinthians 12:21). We are all a part of Christ's body and we are there for one another (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Plain and simple: we learn from one another. I am blessed and thankful to have leaders in my life who have poured out their teaching and their hearts in equipping me for ministry. For example, my Dad and Father-in-Law both have mechanical minds which benefit others around them. They reveal through their servant heart, activities, and lifestyle that they really are Good Samaritans. My wife can balance a budget very effectively, plan, and organize events, as well as taxes! Both my brother-in-laws have strong mechanical aptitude and leadership skills. My older brother is great at making sales and business entrepreneurship decisions. My younger brother is an industrial design genius.